The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 15, 2013

Supreme Court sustains jury commissioners: Judges void law allowing counties to abolish positions

Dave Sutor

— Jury commissioners across the commonwealth received a reprieve from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on Thursday.

The high court declared – by a 6-0 vote – that a law giving counties permission to abolish jury commissioner positions violated the state constitution’s single-subject provision because it was tied to an unrelated measure dealing with private property and farm surplus online auctions.

Cambria County Solicitor Thomas Leiden said the court did not make “any indication on the constitutionality” of actually eliminating the positions.

Rather, judges determined Act 108, as it was written in 2011, went against the single-subject provision, which bars unrelated subjects from being included in the same legislation.

“When it passed, there was some question about the single-subject intent,” said state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, who voted against the bill.

Legislators could decide to take up the issue again, meaning the positions are not completely safe from elimination.

“I would hope they would reconsider, but I would not be surprised if they just passed a new bill,” said Indiana County resident Mary Jane Dellafiora, a Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners legislative representative.

Several counties already had decided to eliminate the positions. Cambria County planned to abolish the offices, currently held by Democrat Helen Whiteford and Republican Vickie Long.

“We just have to revisit it,” said Cambria County Commissioner Thomas Chernisky, a former jury commissioner. “They were budgeted for this year. We’re working on next year’s budget, so nothing is decided for next year.”

Chernisky supports retaining the positions because “the jury selection process is a very serious process.”

The seats originally were scheduled to be on the 2013 ballot. But since they subsequently were scheduled to be eliminated, nobody planned to run.

Now, with the primary set for May 21, the county must scramble to figure out how to handle the situation. Chernisky feels the state needs to quickly explain what should be done, since the deadline to file nomination  petitions already has passed.

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